Hands down the hardest film to talk about at Toronto’s International Film Festival this year is The Strange Little Cat, a charming study into the quant and often bizarre realities of everyday family life.
Very loosely (almost unthinkably) based on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Ramon Zurcher’s first feature is an exercise in mastery on many levels. The keen and prying eye he exudes into every facet of the busy household can at points seem mundane and others alien but nearly always utterly riveting. The mechanics of household relations seem to spiral silently into a weird dance as a family convenes for a celebration. As each member pops in and out of the films’ frame we are presented odd short narratives from each in an attempt to reveal the complexity of human emotion and everyday life.
The most interesting layer of the feature is the staunch absurdist thread that weaves throughout the film. The study of domestic relation and interactions we perform on a daily basis successfully reveals the inherent weirdness of human endeavour through those short tales relayed by the family members. Alongside these short tales of zany familiarity, Zurcher picks out individual visuals of the home environment and sequences them alongside the narrative to ensure the familiar becomes something unavoidably strange. A young girl screams as a household blender is activated, a remote control helicopter floats in the background pestering the scene, a basket floats past the window, all the while the strange little cat (the most ordinary of the lot) saunters through this bizarre stage.
These instances are then pointed out by the entirely despondent family to a point where you’ll start to wonder if you’ve tottered into a parallel where no one is capable of emotive reaction. This just goes to show how entirely invested the actors are in Zurcher’s strange little play. A wave of honesty seems to possess each character at one point or another, forcing the family to surrender a strange experience from their day. Altogether the stories render a world of near-surrealist quality, by their confronting everyday actions, but the full point is relayed with the actual performance that relays the tale in a distracted bittersweet fashion.
For a film where the most exciting action is a bottle cork smashing a light bulb, The Strange Little Cat is a fascinating feature. A film like this -no matter how absurd- is still a tedious affair across longer distances, so at a wise run-time of 75 minutes it maintains its quality as a strange little vignette into a strange little world performed by some wonderful German talent.
The Strange Little Cat is ponderous, beautiful, and ultimately mysterious in its experimental exploration of the everyday. Though a highly developed and intriguing film, from a skilled hand, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea as it required a patience that comes hand in hand with such slow artistic endeavour.
12,13th September 2013 (TIFF)
Jenny Schily, Mia Kasalo, Anjorka Strechel, Luk Pfaff,